When John reached out to me in late 2017, the last thing I needed in my life was another volunteer commitment. I was juggling family responsibilities, a job that was never supposed to become the grind that it did, and already volunteering for a couple of other organizations. "Just come to a meeting. And, then, you may say no." What I didn't know when I agreed to the one meeting was how impossible it is to say no to John. Before he could perform one of his famous magic tricks, I had signed up to volunteer in the Anaheim Family YMCA's Marketing Committee, the organization where John Guastaferro was VP of Marketing.
Our friendship developed quickly. I like creative people and John is the most creative person I know. I've come across one or two people who sport the word "creative" on their title and that's where it ends. They are more creative about how to recycle others' ideas than coming up with their own. John doesn't wear a creative badge, he lives it. He is a magician who is a member of the prestigious Magic Castle in Hollywood and performs internationally. He is an amazing guitarist and composes his own music. He paints. He is a published author and speaker. Somebody asked him once, "Is there anything you don't do?" and I answered for him, "Sleep!" He is also an amazing and engaged father, husband, son and friend. I marvel at how he manages his time and does it all. I want to know his secret. He tells me it is all about finding synergistic connections between his different passions and drawing from his diverse experience.
Today, we sit in my Spanish patio, sip coffee and he plays his Spanish guitar. We're in Southern California, but the setting and his music transport me back to my native Cadiz. Even though I have spent a lot of time with John over the past year, I didn't know a lot about his upbringing and how it impacted the creative soul he is today. I knew that, like me, he is an only child. I didn't know he never knew his dad. It was just John and his mom when he was growing up, so he used magic and art as an escape. When he saw how that brought a smile to his mom's face, it set him on this path of endless creativity and wonder. Those early years became the foundation for a lot of what John does. "Art and philanthropy are my siblings," he tells me, "my family."
Last October, John was offered the position of CEO at the Anaheim Community Foundation. They couldn't have chosen a better person for the mission. I look up to him, so I was honored when he asked me to help him prepare for his final interview. John is confident and sure of himself, but never arrogant. He believes in preparation and he is comfortable enough in his own skin to ask for help. It is one of the character traits I admire in him.
Just a few months in this new role and he is making a great impact. But that is John, not one to sit in the passenger seat. His ever-restless mind is always coming up with new ideas. HIs standards are high. I believe a big part of his success is due to how well he connects with people, whether he is performing his magic, giving a keynote speech or talking to donors. I have seen him work a room and captivate the audience. He tells me you have to read the room. It is about having a loose script, but being nimble enough to go off script. He interacts with his audience. "Listening and responding," he tells me, "that's true interaction." People say that knowledge is power, but John believes that the magic is in sharing the knowledge in a way that captivates people and their imagination.
I always say you're never too young to think about your legacy and never too old to get started. John would like to be remembered as someone who connected us to so many extraordinary moments. That prompts me to ask him, "Somebody writes an article about you in 2020 and you make the magazine cover. What does it say?" John answers, “Newest TEDx speaker inspires thousands to be more philanthropic and add more wonder to the world.”
I can say he has already added wonder to mine.